Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Off to China for Tea

I can hardly wait!  In a couple of days, I will be on a 14.5 hour flight to Shanghai to join Tao Tea Leaf's Spring Tea Tour.  A small group consisting of five fellow travellers led by Tao Wu, co-owner of Tao Tea Leaf  on a journey to discover, taste and, of course, buy the freshest this year's crop has to offer.  You can click here for the itinerary.

We're going to learn first hand how tea is made from bush to cup.

Looking at these samples of yixing clay teapots, I am so excited to meet Yixing pottery masters and learn the ancient art of making these tiny precious teapots.
I wonder how many I can stuff in my suitcase...?

#digitaledu, #Tea…#What?!

Just as the first ever Toronto Tea Festival was coming down the home stretch, I started my Foundations in Digital Communications Strategy and Social Media course at the University of Toronto.  I think I first read about this new Certificate in Digital Strategy & Communications Management in the local Metro Daily one morning.  First of its kind!  Social media sounds simple enough, should be fun, right?  I went on the U of T continuing education website to examine it closer.  Looked very interesting, major component was blogging which I had wanted to improve, and learn more about social media, maybe finally open a Twitter account in the process too.

The program was developed and taught by a group of experienced social media and PR experts: Martin WaxmanMarcus DanielsDiane BeginCyrus Mavalwala and Eden Spodek.

Once again I went “back to school”, but this was way more fun, in fact tweeting was encouraged in class.  I opened my Twitter account and started learning the ropes, forcing myself to send my messages out within the required 140 characters and so on. 

Every Wednesday night, classmates and instructors were live tweeting during lectures with #digitaledu. Social media is “social” so interaction in class, online and offline was also encouraged.  There’s a LinkedIn group for the class, a group project to create a wiki, learning new technology, book reports, and class presentations.  Learning about social media advertising and RTB (Real Time Bidding, mind boggling!) 

There were fun and informative nights with guest speakers like Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks via Skype.  Pro- blogger panel with Alison Garwood-Jones, Andrew Dobson, Zach Bussey, and Kathy Buckworth some of the classmates were very social media savvy and I learned quite a bit from them as well.  We even had a Genie Award-winning documentary film maker, Maureen Judge who spoke in class!

I went in thinking this would be fairly easy, light and fun.  Doable, you know…but when you toss in the minor detail that January to April is THE busiest time for my full time job in the Financial Services, RRSP and tax season, anyone?  But hey, how much work can a class on social media entail?

As it turns out, lots! This course was really intensive, especially if you are new to a lot of the content.  My synapses sizzled during and after Marcus’ class on social media advertising.  I had a mini panic attack while learning how to use the PBWork platform to create our group wiki project.  It was only the next week during class when Martin and Eden took a look, did we all realize it had changed so much that they, yes the teachers, even encouraged us to move to Google platform.  Way easier! Thank you! 

With this much work, we’re talking a whole new level of busy! 

Oh yes, and I agreed to help be a moderator  for a new online forum called Teatalk and help with a local tea organization with their Facebook page! 

And to top it off, as the class is winding down, I am preparing for a trip to China!  We’re off to visit the land of TEA in a couple of days!  Whoa, couple of days!  I still need to pack, finish my group wiki, finish up my required blog postings for class, and, oh yeah, work… whew!  Tired just thinking of this, hmm, need some good strong tea to keep me going through the home stretch, actually maybe something stronger like yerba mate or… perhaps…coffee?!  Nah, tea’s better, don’t need more jitters…  

Photo: Jennifer Hamill

Wine Tasting Workshop at Creme Fraiche Market Cafe

On a chilly evening back in February of this year, I attended a wine tasting workshop at the Creme Fraiche Market Cafe.  I met the owner of this cool local cafe, Constance, at a William Sonoma Artisans' Market at Yorkdale Mall.  Upon hearing that I was a Certified Tea Sommelier, she suggested that I should come check out a special wine tasting workshop she was holding at her cafe.  Since wine and tea have some similiarities, both are crops highly affected by the land or terroir.  The products take on and reflect the taste profiles of the land it's grown on.

I enjoy wine and actually had thought of taking some wine tasting courses.  I just needed to find time in my busy schedule.  So this workshop interested me very much.

Creme Fraiche Market Cafe carries local, sustainable, artisan foods.  It sounded like it could be a very yummy affair.
 Wine Sommelier, Luis Marquez led the workshop

Constance helping the guests get settled in
Think we're in for quite a ride, look at all the glasses!  How many are we going to be tasting?  A welcoming glass of sparkling wine to start the evening.

Some of the amazing cheeses made by Ontario dairies.  Of the cheeses we tried I found the Figaro and the nutty aged Lancaster were delicious.  A very good sharp blue cheese and a Monteforte Abundance was yummy.  There were sweet honey comb and a luscious pear chutney.

 Some of the Ontario-made cured meats, dill pickles and spicy pickled beans...mmm
 The nerd in me couldn't resist making notes throughout the awesome workshop.

One sparkling wine, three white wines, six reds and a dessert wine were tasted.  Luis took us through a great journey around the world of wine.  New world and old world wines were discussed and enjoyed.  We were given pointers on how to make educated guesses as to the region, age, and type of a wine.  
 Tiramisu and a Yuzu flavoured macaron served with the Moscatel, oh my...
What an awesome way to spend an evening!  It was so much fun, tasty, and educational.  Highlights were a German Reisling, a Cab Bourdeaux, and a Spanish Moscatel dessert wine.  Creme Fraiche periodically holds other workshops such as pasta making too.  Check their Facebook page to stay on top of what's available.  Boy, I thought tea was complicated, add the alcohol in wines and, um what was I talking about?  
Perhaps a caffeinated beverage... anyone?

Vancouver in the Springtime

On my way back from China, I will be stopping off in Vancouver to visit some good friends and take in some of that city's beautiful scenery.  If you've never been out to this West coast city, I highly recommend it, especially during the spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.  It's so pretty that it almost makes one forget how wet, cold to the bones, grey and dreary a Vancouver winter can be...I've experienced their notorious winters before, can you tell?!

Photo: Drew Taylor
 I'll be looking forward to visiting some of the cool tea shops out there!

Pekoe Tea Lounge

 Tower of tea to sniff before you decide which one you'd like

Pierre, the owner (soon to be Certified Tea Sommelier)

 Soon to be Certified Tea Sommelier, Del Tamborini
 Well, with service like this, how can a girl refuse...

O5 Rare Tea Bar - stop by for a flight of teas or see if I am in time for a tea and food pairing event
pick up some great Kale + Nori bitters or a cool tea bowl

Pedro, owner of O5

See you in a few weeks, Vancouver

Wuyi Mountain Dreaming...

In a couple of days I will be off to the original land of tea, China!  It is exciting to think that I will be smelling , touching and seeing the tea plant first hand.  In preparation for my trip and to stir the imagination, here is a documentary by China's CCTV on one of the places I will be visiting, Wuyi Mountain (Wuyishan) in Fujian province.

This video is in Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles but it has some beautiful scenic shots, is informative, and gives you a nice overview of Wuyi Mountain.  It is 26 minutes long, does take a little while to buffer, but compared to my 14.5 hour flight soon, that's nothing!

Grab a tea and enjoy the video!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


At last, the food, the teas, and the people were all set.  The guests have arrived and so begins our tale.

Every year since its inception, the Tea Guild of Canada has featured a tea and food pairing event.  This is a great way to open the general public's minds to the endless possibilities of tea.  This year's theme was "Tea and Tales".  There are many legends and stories associated with tea.  The four course event took place in different rooms of Montgomery's Inn on Saturday, April 6th.

The guests were split into four groups and rotated to a new room or tasting station for each course.  One or two teas were paired with each course.  A new tale about tea was told at each sitting.

 The worksheet for guests to take notes and the menu
Tales about Tea History took place in the dining room.  Certified Tea Sommelier, Jim Nicholson and "Tea Snob", Karen Bergman told the guests of the tales of Afternoon Tea.

Some of the tales included:
"Economics: Rule Britannia & Capitalism" - Industrial Revolution, East India Company, the Clipper Ships and India tea trade.

"Politics: Liberalism & Monarchy" - the pomp and ceremony of Queen Victorian times, Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, Whigs vs Tories, Liberal Ideology, Gunboat Diplomacy and the Opium War.

"Social: Rising Middle Class" - Wealth, Emerging Middle Class, Temperance Movement and Embracing foreign cultures.
The first course of chicken consomme was paired with Dragonwell tea in all the rooms, except for this one.  Jim and Karen decided to serve a White butterfly (white tea) and Buckingham Palace (Earl Grey, Chinese Jasmine, Malty Assam, and Kenyan blend) tea for all four courses.
 Guest examining the leaves of the White Butterfly tea
In the ballroom, Certified Tea Sommelier, Carol Savage and Tea Sommelier student, Katherine Bellman told tales about Chinese and Japanese Tea Folklore.
They told of the legends of Sheng Nong, TieguanyinBodhidharma, Dragon Well, and origins of Chinese black tea.

Dao Hong Pao (Chinese Oolong tea) and Jing Ping Gong Fu Black tea (Chinese fully oxidized black tea) were paired with the sandwiches and savories.  
Carol and Katherine served Jin Jiang Mi Lan Xiang (honey orchid oolong) and Jin Guan Yin (an oolong from Anxi province) with the scones.  Golden needle and iced matcha passionfruit lemonade with the sweets.

I think this is the room I should have stayed in, the pairings sound amazing!
Using a Chinese Gaiwan to steep the teas
In the tavern bar, Tea Sommelier instructor, Bill Kamula, told the tale of Sir Thomas Lipton.
Certified Tea Sommelier, Debbie Chang assisted with preparing the Dragonwell to be served with the soup and a Ceylon tea was served with the rest of the courses.  How fitting since this is the room talking about Thomas Lipton!
Package of the world famous Lipton Yellow Label tea in the background
In the historical kitchen, Certified Tea Sommeliers, Linda Gordon and Linda Gaylard spoke about Form, Function and Style in Teaware.  
The sweets were paired with a tasty iced Matcha Passionfruit Lemonade, Darjeeling and Assam teas
All in all, Tea and Tales was a fun and informative event!  A blend of stories, people, delicious foods and fine teas.  Montgomery's Inn provided a beautiful and historical setting for all the offerings.

Stay tuned for more tea adventures and my preparations for all the tea in China...!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

TEA AND TALES: Behind the Scenes (The People and The Teas)

Following my last post, with the food for Tea and Tales all prepped, I wandered around the Montgomery's Inn to check out how the rest of the prep is coming along.  Montgomery's Inn was built around 1830 for Thomas and Margaret Montgomery.  The museum has been restored to its heyday of 1847 when it served as a meeting place for the community and gave shelter and food for weary travellers.   It's a great place to visit to see what life was like back in the early 19th century.  And on Saturday, April 6th, it served as the meeting place for the Tea Guild of Canada's 4th annual tea and food pairing fundraiser.

Both the Tea Guild of Canada and Montgomery's Inn are not-for-profit organizations and any profit will be shared between them.  Montgomery's Inn is on Toronto Mayor Ford's "hit list" of cultural and historical buildings to be shut down.  So, if you're looking for a cause to support and a cool place to visit, the funds would be greatly appreciated in their battle to stay open.

Not sure who first said this but there's a saying that goes, you need to know where you came from to know where you are going.  I encourage to go visit Montgomery's Inn or any of our city's fine historical museums to learn more about Toronto's past.

The tables have been set in the tea room, waiting for the guests to be welcomed and the introductions to begin.
Busy bee volunteers stuffing the gift bags for the guests
 Preparing the trays of sweets
 Last minute review of presentation notes
In the historic kitchen
Final set up of the rooms
The ballroom
 Teas to be served, weighed out and ready for use
Dao Hong Pao to be paired with the sandwiches and savories
Dragon well (Lung Jing) to be paired with the chicken consomm√©
Close up of one of the Chinese yixing teapots on the table

Preparing the portions of teas
Last minute instructions to the greeters at the reception area
The guests have arrived and Bill Kamula, co-chair of the Tea Guild of Canada gives the welcome speech
The water is boiling and you know what that means...
Soon there will be TEA!